January is Glaucoma Awareness MonthMonday, January 21st, 2013, 2:57 pm
One of the most common mistakes patients make is assuming that there is no reason to go to the doctor if their eyes feel healthy. More than 400,000 Canadians, and more than 67 million people worldwide, have glaucoma. Experts estimate that half of them don’t know they have it. In its early stages glaucoma often has no side effects. Unfortunately, the early stages are the most crucial for detection and treatment.
So what is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a incurable disease characterized by vision loss due to damage to the optic nerve. The optic nerve is responsible for carrying images from the eye to the brain. Glaucoma is most often seen in the middle aged and elderly but it can affect all ages and symptoms are usually non existent until the disease is quite advanced. There are two main types of glaucoma: primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG), and angle-closure glaucoma. POAG is the most common form of glaucoma affecting 90% of all glaucoma cases. It is caused by the slow clogging of the drainage canals, resulting in increased eye pressure. This increased eye pressure results in damage to the optic nerve. This form of glaucoma has no noticeable symptoms and develops slowly.
Angle-closure glaucoma, a less common form of glaucoma. It is caused by blocked drainage canals, resulting in a sudden rise in intraocular pressure. This form of glaucoma usually develops very quickly and requires immediate medical attention. Unlike open-angle glaucoma, angle-closure glaucoma is a result of the angle between the iris and cornea closing.
What are my Risks?
Anyone is at risk of developing Glaucoma however, glaucoma is often more prevalent in:
- Ethnic background: Glaucoma is six to eight times more common in individuals with African descent than Caucasians and are more likely to experience permanent blindness as a result of glaucoma. People of Asian descent have an increased risk of developing acute angle-closure glaucoma.
- Age: You’re at a higher risk of glaucoma if you’re older than age 60. You are six times more likely to get glaucoma after 60 years of age.
- Family History of glaucoma: Glaucoma may have a genetic link, meaning there’s a defect in one or more genes that may cause certain individuals to be more susceptible to the disease.
- Long-term corticosteroid use: A 1997 study reported in the Journal of American Medical Association demonstrated a 40% increase in the incidence of open-angle glaucoma in adults who require approximately 14 to 35 puffs of steroid inhaler to control asthma. This is a very high dose generally only used in severe asthma cases.
- Eye Injury: Blunt trauma to the globe may cause onset glaucoma that may arise immediately after the injury or even years later. Injuries that penetrate the eye can damage the eye’s drainage system, leading to traumatic glaucoma.
How can I treat and prevent against Glaucoma?
See your doctor!
While there is no cure for glaucoma, early detection and treatment can delay the effects of the disease. Regular complete eye examinations performed by your optometrist or ophthalmologist are the best way to identify if you may be at risk for developing glaucoma and taking the necessary steps in delaying its effects. Diagnostic equipment available to patients serve valuable in early detection.
Know your medical history!
Because glaucoma is linked to genetic history, knowing whether you could be at risk is important in maintaining routine assessments with your doctor. If you have been diagnosed with glaucoma, notifying your immediate family can help them in early detection should they develop the disease as well.